Struggle in Iran

Field, Place, Trajectory
Milad S.
Khiaban No. 36
August 11, 2009
This is a translation of another analytical article by Milad S., a regular contributor to the Khiaban (The Street) newspaper. This article was first published in Khiaban #36 (August 11, 2009).
1. September
We are witnessing a gradual transformation and redirecting of the slogans. It took less than two months for the people to move from the annulment of the elections to the collective realization that the real nature and the legal framework of this republic are the real obstacles in the way of the movement. The more elaborate forms of mass meetings, organization of thousands of small cells, the increase in capabilities for printing and distributing nightly fliers and news bulletins -- these are all indicative of a widened field for movement. With the joining in of different regions, the movement is also redefined at each stage: the widening of the local protests against Naziabad, 17th of Shahrivar (southern neighborhood of Tehran with a dominantly poor population), is an example of the spreading of the struggle from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Alongside the evolving field of struggle and the spreading of movement from one neighborhood, one place to another, the trajectory and the possible horizons of this movement too undergo changes. The widening of the popular protests is not merely quantitative, just as the rising number of organized groups or the increased facility in printing and distributing two-page night fliers are not merely an improved dissemination of the news. The slogans and the forms of dissent as well as the demands being raised can encompass yet larger segments of the material social reality. This is a movement in which we can already see the capability for the claims, and the inevitability of returning to the basic demands, of the 1978-79 revolution. The experience of the period of 1977-81 means understanding solidarity as organized popular demands. Along this trajectory, the process of popular self-organization at any given place, the communists walk alongside the people.

If the people gradually reach the conclusion that the corrupt police patrols are not protectors of the people but aggressors against their lives and livelihoods, the worst kind of hoodlums, and if they realize from their own practical experience that self-management over their local affairs is a better guarantee for more security, peace and human life; then this practical realization and the end of the humiliation, will mean the practical discovery of a common cause. The experience of the winter of 1357 (late 1978- early 1979), the spectacular fall of criminality, the practical distribution of needed goods in different neighborhoods, particularly in working class and southern districts of cities, all are experiences still remembered today due not only to the mass mobilization of the people but especially due to people's foresight in forming neighborhood committees. The communists stand alongside the people so that this time around nobody shall hijack these committees in the name of ideology or for any particular economic interests.

2. Communists
"Communists" means the collective practice of all those working for connecting the mass struggle for particular and localized demands, with social justice as their horizon, and with a belief in the possibility of self-management/control in places of work and living. Based on these principles communists expend effort in organizing the laboring forces and the people. Acting among the people, in small groups, means multiplying the communist ideals. I believe that this definition helps best in overcoming many obstacles. Communism is an old ideal. In this land of Iran, those in the Mazdaki insurrection (c. 496 AD) were among the forerunners of this ideal. This ideal is based on a single thought: By sharing the collectively produced wealth, by participation of all in the running of society, we will achieve social justice, legal and real equality, and the possibility of growth and freedom for each individual, regardless of color, creed or religion.

This old ideal, with the dawn of capitalism and the development of culture and sciences, nowadays is not only a possible vantage point, but a necessary way out of the existing misery. Our world does not have much forte left for speculative total destruction and private benefit of a few. It is enough to look at the torched earth of Africa, abandoned by Capital, or to look at the destroyed environments in Iran or all over the world. This ideal, today more than ever, is attainable; it is enough to just see that humanity today has achieved levels of science and innovation unparalleled in human history. Production and intellect are intimately connected. Even for farming a plot of land, you need at least some years of schooling. Such were inconceivable only two hundred years ago. The fact that capitalism had a progressive role in this development is not disputed, at least not by communists who have read Marx. The point, though, is that this progressive function is relative and historical, not eternal. And the last two hundred years have shown clearly that Capital's governing logic is today not only insufficient and unfeasible, but is in fact a detriment to both creativity and people's wellbeing. Shantytowns and slums, governance by corruption, torture camps such as Kahrizak and Aslavié industrial complex (a remote petro-industrial complex, infamous for its inhuman working conditions_ trans. note), the Basiji's, and the last thirty years of Iranian history, all attest to this.

Furthermore, I think that the specific form for struggle should be a function of the ideal. Political parties were one of the basic forms in the struggles during the 20th century. Political party formation in its widest social sense, not only in Iran but in the majority of places in the world, was synonymous to communists’ commitment. This, however, in my opinion, does not necessarily mean that this form is extra-historical. Based on historical conditions, and the dominant social relations, including security considerations, we must responsibly ask: Is this form efficient today, does it contribute to multiplication and dissemination of the communist ideal and to organization of the people?

3. Analysis for doing what?
I think that the criteria for any concept, be it grand or small, about the world, the era or Iran, is the conjectural conclusions of the communists' efforts and organizing experience; otherwise, abstract thinking will waste your labor, and academism will have us happily busy with rearranging and recomposing successive draft evaluatings. Understanding capital's mechanisms and dynamics, understanding the present antagonisms and the current movement's place within the world and the region, all these must be discussions and arguments that, just like tools of labor, aim at societal intervention. So, perhaps the most appropriate thing to do is to ask questions whose meaningful absence is an obstacle in the path of the new generation of communists.

Will the mercantilist capitalists, those in the House of Trade [Otaaqh-e Baazargaani] and Merchants' Associations [Hey'ate Mo'talefe], still exist if this state falls, or will they perish? Why will they perish? If the state were their representative and not the other way around, why would their existence be dependent on that state? Why is it that for the last thirty years, except for the war years, we have faced a constant and increasing growth of the service sector, educational sector, and financial capital? What is the exact nature of the foundations [bonyaad's_ government run, formally 'private' corporations run crony-capitalist style _ trans. note] and the Revolutionary Guards? Why is it that the Iranian banking system can be bankrupt, according to the official sources of the regime itself, yet some capitalists, whom some friends have generously given the honorary label of bourgeoisie, exist? Why didn’t they react? Is it because it is still a weakling of a class, in transition? If that is the case, then where does all this huge volume of liquidity in circulation come from, where does it become capital, and where does it go; where is the circulation of capital?

The experiential givens and tangible facts, which fit our lived experiences and are observable in the available data, must be relevant for our analyses. Why have some friends fallen so in love with "Iran's transition from something to something," or with "Iran's capitalist malformation"? Malformation can only mean that there is a prototype somewhere else. I think one problem is the frequently misunderstood phrase, 'a capitalist society'. Nowhere on earth is the society limited to capitalism, nor is capitalism a laboratory experimental phenomenon. Capital has its own logic, which is fundamentally alien to human considerations. It is the closed circuit of production, distribution and accumulation: neither humans nor their environment find any place in its calculations, unless they are factors for increase or stabilization of the rate of profit. The civil legal codes of a European society (if this is what the notion of malformed Iranian capitalism refers to) is not the exact copy of capital's logic, but the outcome of a long struggle between capital and the laboring forces, affecting the legal institutions of those societies.

Also, analysis must not be merely a 'know-it-all' type of expression. The objective is to better understand how Ahmadinejads can be reproduced in the heart of this society, and how these creatures and the state apparatus is connected to the world capitalist system. And from those two questions, firstly to arrive at conclusions that make it impossible for a system of oppression to exist, and secondly to designate the material conditions of possibility for communism.

In a forthcoming writing, I will return to these questions. In the current situation, I believe that the most important principle must be the readiness, with open eyes, to accompany the movement and to render blunt and ineffective the dreadful and oppressive violence. Wherever the machinery of oppression thinks they have driven us back, we have just avoided the range of their bullets, in order to set up new spaces in our next steps. The cooperation of the street and work place, the neighborhoods and places of work will change the directions taken by the movement. The changes of direction, in order to become stable forms of self-management, will need the knowledge and the effort of those who, in practice, believe in freedom and people's equality, regardless of color or creed.


Venezuela: Class Struggle Heats up over Battle for Workers’ Control

Federico Fuentes
Green Left Weekly
July 26th 2009

Federico Fuentes, Caracas - Green Left Weekly - On July 22, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez again declared his complete support for the proposal by industrial workers for a new model of production based on workers' control.

This push from Chavez, part of the socialist revolution, aims at transforming Venezuela's basic industry. However, it faces resistance from within the state bureaucracy and the revolutionary movement.

Presenting his government's "Plan Socialist Guayana 2009-2019", Chavez said the state-owned companies in basic industry have to be transformed into "socialist companies".

The plan was the result of several weeks of intense discussion among revolutionary workers from the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG). The CVG includes 15 state-owned companies in the industrial Guayana region involved in steel, iron ore, mineral and aluminium production.

The workers' roundtables were established after a May 21 workshop, where industrial workers raised radical proposals for the socialist transformation of basic industry.

Chavez addressed the workshop in support of many of the proposals.

But events between the May 21 workshop and Chavez's July 22 recent announcement reveal much of the nature of the class struggle inside revolutionary Venezuela.

Chavez's announcement is part of an offensive launched after the revolutionary forces won the February 15 referendum on the back of a big organisational push that involved hundreds of thousands of people in the campaign.

The vote was to amend the constitution to allow elected officials to stand for re-election - allowing Chavez, the undisputed leader of the Venezuelan revolution, to stand for president in 2012.

With oil revenue drying up due to the global economic crisis, the government is using this new position of strength to tackle corruption and bureaucracy, while increasing state control over strategic economic sectors. This aims to ensure the poor are not made to pay for the crisis.

Workers' control
On May 21, Chavez publicly threw his lot in with the Guayana workers, announcing his government's granting of demands for better conditions in state-owned companies and the nationalisation of a number of private companies whose workers were involved in industrial disputes.

"When the working class roars, the capitalists tremble", Chavez told the

To chants of "this is how you govern!", Chavez announced his agreement with a series of measures proposed by workers.

However, like an old train that begins to rattle loudly as it speeds up, more right-wing sectors within the revolutionary movement also began to tremble.

With each new attack against the political and economic power that the capitalist class still holds in Venezuela - and uses to destabilise the country - the revolution is also forced to confront internal enemies.

The radical measures announced at the May 21 workshop were the result of the workers discussion over the previous two days.

Chavez called on workers to wage an all-out struggle against the "mafias" rife in the management of state companies.

The workers of SIDOR conducted a long and hard struggle against the Argentinean multinational Techin.

Chavez then designated planning minister Jorge Giordani and labour minister Maria Cristina Iglesias, who both played a key role in the workshop, to follow up these decisions by establishing a series of workers' roundtables in the CVG industries.

The CVG complex is on the verge of collapse in large part due to the privatisation push by pre-Chavez governments in the 1990s. State companies were run down in preparation to be sold off cheaply.

The workers of SIDOR conducted a long and hard struggle against the Argentinean multinational Techin.

In the Sidor steel plant, for example, the number of workers dropped from more than 30,000 to less than 15,000 before it was privatised in 1998.

Chavez's 1998 election stopped further privatisation. But the government has had to confront large scale corruption within the CVG, continued deterioration of machinery and, more recently, the sharp drop in prices of aluminium and steel.

The plan drafted up by workers and given to Chavez on June 9 raised the possibility of "converting the current structural crisis of capitalism" into "an opportunity" for workers to move forward in "the construction of socialism, by assuming in a direct manner, control over production of the basic companies in the region".

The report set out nine strategic lines - including workers' control of production; improvement of environmental and work conditions; and public auditing of companies and projects.

Measures proposed include the election of managers and management restructuring; collective decision-making by workers and local communities; the creation of workers' councils; and opening companies' books.

The measures aim to achieve "direct control of production without mediations by a bureaucratic structure".

The report said such an experience of workers' control would undoubtedly act as an example for workers in "companies in the public sector nationally, such as those linked to hydrocarbons or energy companies".

Bureaucracy bites back
Sensing the danger such an example represents to its interests, bureaucratic sections within the revolutionary movement, as well as the US-backed counter-revolutionary opposition, moved quickly to try and stop this process.

Unidentified worker holding casing from National Guard rubber bullet as Sutiss Secretary General José Rodriguez Acarigua addresses striking workers at Portón 1
Credit: Jonah Gindin - Venezuelanalysis.com

A wave of strikes and protests were organised in the aluminium sector during June and July, taking advantage of workers' disgruntlement with corrupt managers and payments owed.

The protests were organised by union leaders from both the Socialist Bolivarian Force of Workers (FSBT), a union current within the mass party led by Chavez, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and those aligned with opposition parties such as Radical Cause.

Revolutionary workers from Guayana condemned the unholy alliance of bureaucratic union leaders and opposition political forces, which aimed to stifling the process initiated on May 21.

This alliance was supported by Bolivar governor, retired General Francisco Rangel Gomez, who called on the national government to negotiate directly with local unions.

Opinion pieces began to appear in the local press, calling on the government to once again make Rangel president of the CVG in order to bring "stability".

The alliance between Rangel and union bureaucrats in Guayana is long running.

Officially part of the Chavista camp, Rangel has long been accused of being corrupt and anti-worker. During his term as CVG president before becoming governor in 2004, Rangel built up a corrupt clientalist network with local union and business figures.

He stacked CVG management with business partners and friends.

While on the negotiation commission to resolve the 15-month long dispute at Sidor, Rangel ordered the National Guard to fire on protesting Sidor workers.

Also on the commission was then-labour minister and former FSBT union leader from Guayana, Jose Ramon Rivero, who was similarly accused by Sidor workers of siding with management.

He was also criticised for using his position as labour minister to build the FSBT's bureaucratic powerbase by promoting "parallel unions" along factional lines and splitting the revolutionary union confederation, National Union of Workers (UNT).

In April last year, Chavez disbanded the Sidor negotiation commission and sent his vice president, Ramon Carrizales to resolve the dispute by re-nationalising the steel plant.

Rivero was then sacked. Today, he works as the general secretary in Rangel's governorship.

The forces behind Rivero and Rangel hoped not only to stifle the radical proposals from the May 21 workshop, but also remove basic industry minister Rodolfo Sanz.

Sanz has moved to replace Rangel's people with his own in the CVG management.

In the recent dispute, Sanz accused aluminium workers of being responsible for the crisis in that sector. He worked to undermine the proposals of the roundtable discussions.

After several days of negotiations union leaders - essentially sidelining the workers roundtables - Sanz agreed on July 20 not only to pay the workers what they were owed, but also to restructure the board of directors in the aluminium sector.

Through this process, the radical proposals for restructuring the CVG appeared to have been push aside - which suited both Sanz and Rangel.

Revolutionary leadership
However, Chavez intervened with his July 22 announcement, which came after a meeting with key ministers and advisors involved in the May 21 socialist transformation workshop.

Thousands of workers and activists launch the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), April 19. Photo: Reuters/Jorge Silva

Chavez said his government was committed to implement the recommendations of the "Plan Socialist Guayana", placing himself clearly on the side of the workers.

He said the workers' proposals, embodied in the plan, would "guide all the new policies and concrete and specific measures that we are beginning to decide in order to consolidate a socialist platform in Guayana".

When a journalist directed her first question to Sanz regarding the plan, Chavez stepped in to respond, by-passing Sanz and handing the microphone over to Giordani, who many revolutionary workers identify as strongly committed to the process of socialist transformation.

Rangel, who had been at the May 21 workshop, was not at the July 22 meeting.

Chavez also appeared to differentiate himself from other sectors within the revolutionary movement, such as those behind the "A Grain of Maize" daily column, whose authors are linked to a political current involving oil minister Rafael Ramirez.

This current has recently been vocal in arguing that socialism simply entails state ownership and central planning from above - with minimum participation from workers.

For Chavez, state-owned companies "that continue to remain within the framework of state capitalism" have to be managed by their workers in order to become "socialist".

The Plan Socialist Guayana is Venezuela's first example of real "democratic planning from below", Chavez added.

The battle in Guayana is not over. Workers from the Alcasa aluminium plant told Green Left Weekly that management at aluminium plants met on July 25 to continue the process of restructuring agreed to by Sanz and union leaders - in direct opposition to Chavez's statements.

Other fronts of intense class conflict have opened up. Various struggles have emerged involving different forces and interests in the electricity sector, as well as the still-emerging communes, which unite the grassroots communal councils, to name a few.

A central arena of struggle is the PSUV, which is in a process of restructuring ahead of its second congress in October.

But the battle in Guayana may be one of the most decisive as it involves the largest working-class population. This is in the context of a revolution whose weakest link has been the lack of a strong, organised revolutionary workers' movement.